Reading & Literacy

Mapping “The Hobbit”

By Amy Wickner — December 14, 2012 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Where is “there” (and back again)?

As many of you know, the eagerly anticipated film version of The Hobbit premiered early this morning. I have yet to see it; this is not a movie review, but a reflection on a book as confusing as it is loved.

Part of the joy and frustration of reading The Hobbit comes from sharing in our hero’s bewilderment as he’s yanked from his comfortable hobbithole and sent off on a harebrained quest for ... well, we don’t quite know what. We’re on the ground with Bilbo Baggins, unable to see what’s coming next, face to face with giants and other strange creatures with little to no knowledge of where they came from or what they’re doing here. This may be why many of us remember the plot as follows: Bilbo gets lost in a lot of different places and takes “a very long trip in a rowboat.” (Hat tip to Cathy Cardno for that sound bite.)

The hectic and often confusing pace of J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel cries out to be mapped, exactly the task undertaken by Emil Johansson and Daniel Helen of the Lord of the Rings Project. The Hobbit Map is an interactive timeline identifying major events in the novel and where they occur on Tolkien’s original map of Middle Earth. Here’s Johansson discussing the project at a TEDx event in Göteborg, Sweden.

Bilbo’s path crosses and is briefly subsumed by the larger march of (invented) history. He has a pivotal role to play, certainly, but lacks the perspective to understand it—as do we! Imagine the hobbit as a cartographer with no surveyor’s tools. He senses that a vast subcontinent lies just beyond the next ridge, but can barely see where he is, much less stop to measure his own progress.

Growing up, I read three separate editions of The Hobbit multiple times: the rune-emblazoned, multiple-reissue Houghton Mifflin Harcourt edition (from the elementary school library); Ballantine’s mass-market paperback (public library); and a glossy hardcover featuring garishly colored stills from the 1977 animated film (birthday present). A few years ago, I was also introduced to the Michael Hague-illustrated edition, a beauty. It’s been an enduring challenge attempting to reconcile each edition’s maps and illustrations with the peculiar geography I invented for The Hobbit.

Reading, like mapping, is a way to make sense of the riddles upon puzzles upon questions with which Tolkien leaves us. My internal map of the tales compresses some distances while expanding others, confusing east and west and ascribing far more detail to some places and parts of the narrative than Tolkien’s descriptions actually provide.

Much of this has to do with the visual vocabulary available to a 6- or 7-year-old, of course—that’s about the age at which I first read it. But in sharp contrast to the intricately back-storied and plotted Lord of the Rings trilogy (Have you read the complete historical and genealogical indexes? I have.), The Hobbit leaves nearly as many questions unanswered as it introduces. It’s an adventure story as much about knowing and not knowing as it is about fantastical creatures, history, and heroics, a quest for knowledge as well as for treasure. I look forward to seeing how the new film handles these questions.

A version of this news article first appeared in the BookMarks blog.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Reading & Literacy Spotlight Spotlight on Literacy in Education
In this Spotlight, evaluate the possible gaps your current curriculum may have and gain insights from the front-lines of teaching.
Reading & Literacy Creator of 1619 Project Launching After-School Literacy Program
The 1619 Freedom School, led by journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, will make its curriculum a free online resource in 2022.
4 min read
Collage of an American Flag.
Collage: Laura Baker/Education Week (Images: iStock/Getty)
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Reading & Literacy Whitepaper
Supporting Students With Structured Literacy
Structured Literacy is instruction that’s informed by the science of reading. Read this white paper from Lexia® Learning: Structured Lite...
Content provided by Lexia Learning